Military Families in Germany 'Struggling to Make Ends Meet' Amid European Utility Hike
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Military families stationed across Germany are seeing massive hikes in their electricity bills caused by the conflict in Ukraine as their Pentagon-provided living allowance has fallen further, causing significant financial strains around the holiday season.
The Pentagon announced in May that effective June 1 there will be a reduction in the Overseas Living Allowance, or COLA, for families in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, as prices in the continental US are now more expensive than in Germany.
While families were initially told the drop would be just 10 points, it has fallen by 18 index points since April, according to a COLA calculator provided by a military spouse.
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For example, a sergeant with a family member has seen his living expenses drop from nearly $24 a day to $6 a day since January -- or from about $356 a paycheck to $89 a paycheck.
Additionally, gas prices in Germany have risen by an average of 173% year-on-year, according to price comparison portal Check24, as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine earlier this year and reduced gas supplies to Europe from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Similarly, Check24 found that electricity prices have increased by around 41% for an average household.
These price increases hit military families during the holiday season.
"We're in Europe — our proximity to Ukraine absolutely affects the cost of goods and food," a military spouse at Ramstein Air Base, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, told the Military on Wednesday .com . "There is no pantry on base and there are families who are struggling to make ends meet even during the holiday season."
In May, the 86th Ramstein Airlift Squadron issued a press release announcing the COLA cut.
"Leaders recognize this is bad time to cut the rate and are working to find a way forward," said Lt. Col. Micah Neece, commander of the 86th Comptroller Squadron at Ramstein, in the May 17 press release.
Officials also said in the May release that "as the dollar strengthens against the euro and the cost of goods in the US increases relative to the cost of goods in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, military personnel can expect COLA payments to decrease." ."
However, little information has since been shared with the families about measures to reduce the financial burden, according to spouses. On September 30, a live Facebook question-and-answer session was broadcast on the 86th Airlift Wing Command chief's page, which was filled with grievances about the economic situation by commentators.
Some officials said spouses shouldn't use COLA for expenses like utilities or gas.
“You shouldn't be able to afford more as a military member abroad than you can in the United States; it should be the same," Neece said during the Facebook Live video. "Your COLA should not allow you to buy more than you otherwise would."
On Nov. 7, 86th Airlift Wing Chief Master Sgt. Charmaine Kelley posted on her Facebook page that leaders are requesting utility bills from families in hopes of giving the Pentagon more information to ease the financial stress alleviate.
"Due to increases in incidental expenses across KMC, the 86th Airlift Wing is requesting documentation showing a projected increase in incidental expenses above a member's allotted incidental allowance," Kelley wrote. “The hope is that this data call, once presented to those in power, can potentially spur an unscheduled survey of utilities. ... Their respective chains of command will soon be issuing a voluntary data call to military personnel in the physical vicinity of Ramstein."
However, some spouses have said information is not clearly shared with service members and their families.
"It's frustrating to learn that senior leaders are committed and know there's a problem, but then there's no communication about what they're actually going to do," the military spouse told Military.com.
A Pentagon spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking about Wednesday's COLA cut.
With approximately 50,000 soldiers and families, Kaiserslautern is the largest military community outside of the continental United States. It consists of Air Force facilities at Ramstein, Einsiedlerhof, Pirmasens, Vogelweh and Kapaun Air Station and Army facilities at Sembach, Kleber, Panzer and Dänner barracks; country chair; Kirchberg; depot Miesau; industrial center of Kaiserslautern; Rhine Ordinance; and Pulaski Barracks.
Cost of living rates are determined in part by contributions from service members and their families. The Kaiserslautern Military Community's recent surge is based on a fall 2021 survey, well before Russia's invasion of Ukraine and widespread US inflation.
Additionally, spouses told Military.com that the survey took place during the evacuation from Afghanistan, when military personnel were working around the clock to relocate and transport refugees.
Some military families are trying to find relief by flocking to on-base accommodation where heating and water bills are covered. As a result, according to a report by Stars & Stripes, the waiting list for accommodation in Kaiserslautern's military community has increased by 57%.
As early as next month, military families will receive relief from the German government. According to Bloomberg News, utility subsidies will be paid retrospectively to German residents in December, January and February as the full measures go into effect in March.
Gas prices will stop at 12 cents per kilowatt hour for 80% of consumption based on last year's consumption. Electricity prices will be capped at 40 cents, Bloomberg News reported. These caps apply until April 2024
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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